United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Southern Division
TERRENCE W. BOYLE CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the Court on the parties' cross-motions
for judgment on the pleadings. [DE 18, 20]. The motions have
been fully briefed and are ripe for disposition. For the
reasons discussed below, plaintiffs motion [DE 18] is DENIED
and defendant's motion [DE 20] is GRANTED. The
Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.
brought this action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and
1383(c)(3) for review of the final decision of the
Commissioner denying his claim for a period of disability and
disability insurance benefits (DIB) under Title II of the
Social Security Act. Plaintiff filed his application on
January 7, 2014, alleging disability dating back to September
1, 2010. Plaintiffs application was denied both initially and
upon reconsideration. A hearing was held before an
administrative law judge (ALJ) on November 17, 2016. The ALJ
issued a decision in April 2017, finding that plaintiff was
not disabled. In March 2018, the Appeals Council denied
review and made the ALJ's decision the final
administrative decision of the Commissioner.
2018, plaintiff filed the complaint at issue, seeking
judicial review of the, Commissioner's final decision
that he was not entitled to disability benefits. [DE 7]. In
November 2018, plaintiff moved for judgment on the pleadings.
[DE 18]. Defendant moved for judgment on the pleadings in
January 2019. [DE 20].
the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and
1383(c)(3), this Court's review of the Commissioner's
decision is limited to determining whether the decision, as a
whole, is supported by substantial evidence and whether the
Commissioner employed the correct legal standard.
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).
Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion." Johnson v. Barnhart, A?>A F.3d
650, 653 (4th Cir. 2005) (per curiam) (internal quotation and
citation omitted). Courts should not make their own
credibility determinations or substitute their own judgments
for the judgments of the ALJs. Radfordv. Colvin, 734
F.3d 288, 296 (4th Cir. 2013).
individual is considered disabled if he is unable "to
engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any
medically determinable physical or mental impairment which
can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can
be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than
[twelve] months." 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). The
Act further provides that an individual "shall be
determined to be under a disability only if his physical or
mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he
is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot,
considering his age, education, and work experience, engage
in any other line of substantial gainful work which exists in
the national economy." 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).
issued by the Commissioner establish a five-step sequential
evaluation process to be followed in a disability case. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). In making
a disability determination, the ALJ engages in a sequential
five-step evaluation process. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520;
see Johnson, 434 F.3d at 653. At step one, if the
claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful
activity, the claim is denied. At step two, the claim is
denied if the claimant does not have a severe impairment or
combination of impairments significantly limiting him or her
from performing basic work activities. At step three, the
claimant's impairment is compared to those in the Listing
of Impairments (Listing). See 20 C.F.R. Part 404,
Subpart P, App. 1. If the impairment is included in the
Listing or is equivalent to a listed impairment, disability
is conclusively presumed. If the claimant's impairment
does not meet or equal a listed impairment, then the analysis
proceeds to step four, where the claimant's residual
functional capacity is assessed to determine whether
plaintiff can perform his past work despite his impairments.
If the claimant cannot perform past relevant work, the
analysis moves on to step five: establishing whether the
claimant, based on his age, work experience, and residual
functional capacity can perform other substantial gainful
work. The burden of proof is on the claimant for the first
four steps of this inquiry, but shifts to the Commissioner at
the fifth step. Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d 1200, 1203
(4th Cir. 1995). The claimant bears the burden of proof at
steps one through four, but the burden shifts to the
Commissioner at step five. See Bowen v. Yuckert, 482
U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987). If a decision regarding disability
can be made at any step of the process, then the inquiry
ceases. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4),
416.920(a)(4). Here, the analysis ended at step five when the
ALJ assessed plaintiffs residual functional capacity (RFC),
determined that he could perform a full range of work at all
exertional levels subject to limitations, and found that
there were jobs existing in significant numbers in the
national economy that plaintiff could perform. In other
words, the ALJ found thatplaintiff was not disabled within
the meaning of the Social Security Act.
makes only generalized statements in his motion for judgment
on the pleadings, asking the Court "to reverse or modify
the decision of the Commissioner based upon
information/evidence submitted with [the] initial
complaint." [DE 18]. Plaintiff attached medical records
to his complaint, but upon careful review of those records,
the Court finds that remand under section six of 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g) is not warranted.
U.S.C. § 405(g) provides for remand based on new
evidence "only upon a showing that there is new evidence
which is material and that there is good cause for the
failure to incorporate such evidence into the record in a
prior proceeding." In order for such a remand to be
appropriate, plaintiff must establish the following:
First, the claimant must demonstrate that the new evidence is
relevant to the determination of disability at the time the
claimant first applied for benefits and is not merely
cumulative of evidence already on the record. Borders v.
Heckler, 111 F.2d 954, 955 (4th Cir. 1985) (citing
Mitchell v. Schweiker, 699 F.2d 185, 188 (4th Cir.
1983)). Second, the claimant must establish that the evidence
is material, in that the Commissioner's decision
'"might reasonably have been different' had the
new evidence been before her." Id. (quoting
King v. Califano, 599 F.2d 597, 599 (4th Cir.
1979)). Third, the claimant must show that good cause exists
for her failure to present the evidence earlier. Id.
And fourth, the claimant must present to the reviewing court
'"at least a general showing of the nature' of
the new evidence." Id. (quoting King,
599 F.2d at 599).
Finney v. Colvin, 637 Fed.Appx. 711, 715-16 (4th
Cir. 2016). "Evidence is deemed new if it is not
duplicative or cumulative of evidence already in the
record." Wilhins v. Sec 'y, Dep 't of Health
& Human Servs., 953 F.2d 93, 96 (4th Cir. 1991).
Plaintiff bears the burden of meeting all four of the Fourth
Circuit's requirements before his case can be remanded.
plaintiff attaches records that are dated well after April
2017, when the ALJ rendered an unfavorable decision. As to
these records, plaintiff cannot demonstrate relevance to the
determination of disability at the time the claimant first
applied for benefits and, as such, there is no need to
consider whether he can establish the remaining three
requirements. Second, plaintiff attaches records that were
either considered and discounted by the ALJ for reasons that
the ALJ adequately explained or that are not "new
evidence" under Wilkins. The Appeals Council
previously rejected plaintiffs similar attempts to introduce
new evidence, finding that the evidence did not relate to the
ultimate question of whether plaintiff was disabled on or
before April 2017. Because plaintiff bears the burden of
establishing that the ...